Three East Harlem buildings may soon become some of the newest landmarks in New York City. Noted for their cultural and architectural significance, the three buildings have long, rich histories that community members agree should be preserved. Among these buildings are the former Richard Harlem Packing House, the P.S. 109 building on East 99th Street and Benjamin Franklin High School.
Richard Weber Harlem Packing House
Located on East 119th Street and designed by Bartholomew & John P. Walther, the Richard Weber Harlem Packing House was constructed in 1895. Built for the well-known butcher Richard Webber, the six-story building was once part of a larger slaughterhouse and retail complex. Today, it is considered a reminder of East Harlem’s commercial and industrial past. Notable for its terra cotta cow head relief and grand arches, the building is the tallest of the three being proposed for landmark designation.
Weber himself sent on to establish one of the largest businesses in the city in the early 1900s. By 1928, however, the Webber Packing House had ceased operation.
P.S. 109 Building
Also known as El Barrio’s Artspace, the P.S. 109 building on East 99th Street was originally designed as a school by architect C.B.J. Snyder with construction completed in 1898. During its time as a school, the building hosted 2,000 students on five floors. Its size and capacity are emblematic of the social and urban education reform that was taking place at that time. In 2015, the building was converted to affordable housing for local artists. Today, it offers 89 units of affordable live/work housing along with 10,000 square feet of complementary space for arts organizations and 3,000 square feet for a resident gallery.
Benjamin Franklin High School
Now known as the Manhattan School for Science and Math, the two-block long Benjamin Franklin High school was originally built for the neighborhood’s Italian immigrant community under the leadership of educator Leonard Covello. Opened in 1942, the brick and limestone Georgian Revival-style building overlooks the Harlem River at Pleasant Avenue and East 116th Street.
At the time it was built, the building offered bilingual education and community programs. As Puerto Rican migrants started to come to the neighborhood, it also became a hub for celebrating diverse cultural backgrounds and the contributions made by immigrants to the city. The building also became the site of many racial struggles, with Frank Sinatra having visited once to call for peace. Historically speaking, the school provided an important lesson in American history regarding integration and tolerance during the post-war period. Its curriculum was considered to be ahead of its time, with its core values being used today as the basis of educational and workplace systems. The structure now houses the Manhattan School of Science and Math as well as the Isaac Newton Middle School for Math and Science.
Many community members have spoke in favor of designating all three of the buildings as city landmarks. Separate hearings are yet to be scheduled for commissioners to vote on the buildings.